13 Going on 30 (DVD, 2006, Fun & Flirty Edition) Reviews
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13 Going on 30 (DVD, 2006, Fun & Flirty Edition)

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13 Going on 30 Isn't Big, But It Is a Big Success

Oct 16, 2005 (Updated Apr 23, 2007)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:great acting all around, especially by Garner; Matt's exceptional sweetness

Cons:some cliched elements

The Bottom Line: An incredibly sweet movie that encourages its audience members to re-think their priorities.

I have been renting a lot of very good movies lately. Am I just in a really good mood, such that even From Justin to Kelly would look amazing to me were I watching it for the first time? Have I developed an especially keen eye for movies? Is it just that a lot of good ones have landed on the shelves within the last couple years? I don’t know what the answer is. I do know that as soon as I watched 13 Going on 30, I declared it one of the sweetest movies I’d ever seen, and I was more than happy to have a reprise viewing the next day with my brother. I liked it enough to draw favorable comparisons with several other excellent movies, whose titles I will mention later. It carried me away so fully that when my mom suggested I really ought to give the film a lower rating than Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, which we’d also rented, I balked. I expected I probably would find it mildly entertaining, with plenty of amusing moments, most of which hopefully would not earn the PG-13 rating. I did not expect to see a film of such incredible sweetness, and I’ve been savoring it all week.

The film begins in the 80s, where Jenna (Christa Allen) is quickly introduced as an awkward girl on the cusp of her teen years desperate to be embraced by the Six Chicks, a stereotypical group of blonde, pencil-thin, snotty clones. While Matty (Sean Marquette), her next-door neighbor and best friend, endeavors to make her birthday a truly special and memorable experience, Jenna is much more interested in having the Six Chicks – led by a first-class brat named Lucy (Alexandra Kyle) – and dreamy jock Chris (Alex Black) at her party. Already loaded with teen angst, she pores over Poise, her favorite magazine, longing to be "30 and flirty and thriving.” When a party gone predictably askew meets thoughtful Matty’s wishing dust, Jenna is off for the adventure of a lifetime and an incredible lesson in regret and appreciation for the things that are truly important.

When I first saw previews for this film, I thought, “Aha, a rip-off on Big.” Only difference is that it’s a girl this time. But in truth, while both films feature adults splendidly portraying children suddenly thrust into adult bodies and responsibilities, this film has far more in common ultimately with the long line of movies about unpopular people suddenly getting everything they always dreamed of, only to discover that what they had in the first place was far more fulfilling. Big was a coming-of-age story of sorts, or coming to realize that it is best to relish one’s current age rather than rushing on toward a supposedly grander time. 13 Going on 30 is much more about relationships and wrong turns.

Unlike Josh, Tom Hanks’ character in Big, Jenna is catapulted 17 years into the future, where she has more than half a life worth of history of which she has no knowledge. She’s living in a ritzy apartment, dating a hockey star (Samuel Ball) who's more than a little hot on himself, schmoozing with the husband (Ian Barford) of a co-worker, working as an editor at the magazine she loves so much. She’s a gorgeous woman on the outside, but from everything she gathers, she has been vile on the inside for quite some time. Lucy (Judy Greer) is now her “best friend,” if such a term can fairly be applied to anyone so self-absorbed and callous, and Matty (Mark Ruffalo) hasn’t spoken to her in years, once she made it abundantly clear that she wanted nothing to do with him. Like the clueless caterpillars in Hope for the Flowers, she’s been willing to destroy anyone and everyone in her rise to the top, and most of her associates cower when she comes near, while her parents have long since ceased to expect her to take an interest in their affairs.

Jenna is shocked to discover the person she has become. Thrilled as she is by her chic frame, ultra-cool friend and dream job, she is lost and frightened in an unfamiliar world. She can’t even turn to her parents for help, as they are off on a cruise. Her only possible crutch is Matty, and she finds herself relying on him increasingly. Though he is perplexed by her sudden reappearance in his life, he is all too happy to spend a few precious days with his long lost friend before his upcoming marriage relocates him to Chicago with a woman whose affections seem increasingly unsatisfactory. Ultimately he is the heart of the film, the window through which Jenna realizes just how badly she went wrong, or will go wrong if she goes back to being 13 and continues on the path where she was heading.

There are several striking performances in this film. The standout, of course, is Jennifer Garner, who is so utterly vivacious and infectious as the geeky teen trapped in a gorgeous woman’s body that we forgive her all her faults committed while she still looked the part of an adolescent. Allen is far less affecting; she’s a little heavy-handed with her teen drama, and all I can think throughout the bulk of the film’s first scenes in, “You moron! What is the matter with you?” I’m blessed, I guess, to never have experienced the intense desire for popularity. I never much cared about fitting in with any crowd, glitzy or not. It’s angering for me to see all these girls in films treating their parents and their real friends like dirt while chasing after some unsubstantiated goal. Garner’s Jenna is sweet, expressive and sincere, and we wonder how such a wonderful person could evolve into such a jerk and fervently hope that this fate can be avoided when she inevitably returns to her rightful place in the world.

Matt stands out in both his incarnations. Though we don’t see a whole lot of him, it’s Marquette who really moves me, reminding me of both the loyal (and pudgy) Samwise Gamgee and sensitive, artsy Adam Rove from Joan of Arcadia. I later discovered there’s another reason for the latter; he’s the little brother of Christopher Marquette, who plays (or, rather, played) Joan’s eccentric boyfriend. You couldn’t ask for a better best friend, and while he acts casual, it’s clear that he adores Jenna and nothing would make him happier than to have her look at him the way she looks at Chris. Ruffalo takes on the adult role that occupies most of the film, and he too is beyond sweet. Now that they’re adults and Jenna begins to discover the chill of the world she’s chosen for herself, she clings to the warmth of the friend she never properly appreciated. My favorite quote from The Princess Diaries – “You saw me when I was invisible” – would be an extraordinarily appropriate thing for her to say to her once-rejected pal. Yet even as Jenna’s presence awakens in Matt feelings he has not experienced in years, like Edward Ferrars in Sense and Sensibility, he is too honorable to break off an engagement, even if the cost is his happiness.

Kyle’s physical similarity to Greer is remarkable. Both are most effective in portraying the despicable Lucy. Could her name be short for Lucifer? When we realize that this is what Jenna could have become, the impact is alarming. Though Matt’s fiance Wendy (Lynn Collins) seems like a nice enough person, her sweet facade barely conceals the fact that she feels incredibly threatened by Jenna’s reemergence. While she’s hardly as obnoxious as Mel, Niles’ witchy wife for a season or so of Frasier, I can’t help but make the comparison, and it makes me wonder how, even thinking that Jenna is forever out of reach, Matt could marry someone so entirely different, so devoid of the passion and compatibility distinguishing his most treasured relationship. Her iciness shines through on a few occasions, such as when she corrects Matt’s use of the word “anchorwoman” with “anchorperson” and, with a condescending laugh, responds to Jenna’s remark that she doesn’t know what she would have done without Matt with, “I’m sure you’ll be just fine!”

Of course, not all the women Jenna encounters in her new life are so unpleasant. After she’s begun to settle into her new life, though with limited success, she seeks solace in the arms of her mother (Kathy Baker), whose maternal instincts remain sharp as ever. All is forgiven when Jenna returns home; we’re even treated to scenes of Jenna crawling into bed next to her and eating smiley-face pancakes she has prepared. She finds a new friend in Becky (Renee Olstead), a 13-year-old who lives in the building. They can discuss teen things together, and she is far more comfortable with this good-natured, average girl than with Lucy. In the workplace, she has an ally in her assistant Arlene (Marcia DeBonis), who is cowed and harassed-looking at the beginning but loosens up and becomes increasingly joyous as she discovers that overnight, Jenna has changed fundamentally into a decent person. The gentle comic moments involving her enhance the workplace scenes considerably.

Oh, and I can’t forget Andy Serkis. One thing that drew me to this movie was the opportunity to see Serkis in a regular acting role, as an ordinary person, wearing a suit instead of a loincloth and carrying a briefcase instead of a fish. As Richard, Jenna’s boss, he is delightful, a flamboyant, frazzled, fatherly presence who calls to mind Fezziwig from A Christmas Carol. When he’s not busy having a nervous breakdown, he’s a very fun person to have around. Though his humor is dry, his heart is warm, and his voice is so deep it’s easy to put the raspy Gollum out of mind – that is, until you see the exact same expression of elation on his face that the former hobbit wore whenever he got near the Ring.

I like this movie. A lot. I like just about everything about it, and I really don’t care if there are several other movies in which the main character comes to his or her senses, discovering a misplaced sense of priorities and reawakening appreciation for true friends and simple pleasures. I rented 13 Going on 30 looking for a laugh. I found a lot more. Perhaps true love and fulfillment are still possible in this cynical day and age, and perhaps we needn’t pursue them so relentlessly. We need only remain true to our better natures and to those who truly care about us, and the rest will fall into place.

Recommend this product? Yes

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